Bose's family of smart speakers and soundbars sound awesome, but you've been stuck listening to the stationary objects in only specific spots around your home. The Bose Portable Home Speaker ($349) solves that restriction, offering an option to carry around Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in a battery-powered package.
The Bose Portable Home Speaker is a direct answer to the Sonos Move, the powerful, $399 wireless smart speaker that impressed me with its Auto Trueplay technology and comprehensive durability. But for a lower-cost and more portable design, Bose's take on a wireless smart speaker is very compelling.
Bose Portable Home Speaker design: Bucket-handled bliss
I admit: I laughed at the flexible, cloth bucket handle on the Bose Portable Home Speaker. I thought it made the speaker look like a pail or a bizarre pocketbook. But after struggling to lug around the Sonos Move, I'm Team Handle all the way. This device begs to be picked up.
The Bose Portable Home Speaker looks like a slight evolution of Bose's SoundLink Revolve+ Bluetooth speaker. This new speaker is available in two color options: triple black and luxe silver. The former adopts a solid black scheme, while the latter (and the one I used for this review) takes on a two-tone, white-and-chrome-silver combination.
The primary grille wraps around the bottom third of the Bose Portable Home Speaker's 7.5-inch-tall, cylindrical body. A second grille sits on 4-inch circular top, both housing the built-in microphones and encasing the controls. The speaker has a power button, a Bluetooth switcher, a mute button for the microphone, an action button for summoning a smart assistant, and pause/play/volume controls.
A red status light indicates when the Bose Portable Home Speaker's microphone is off. There is also a ring of LEDs indicating when your smart assistant is triggered and listening.
When you're ready to put this speaker down, the rubberized base and bottom-heavy weight distribution will keep the device stabilized, even though it looks like it's easy to tip over.
That leads me to my favorite thing about the Bose Portable Home Speaker design: its weight. At 2.3 pounds, this speaker is half of the weight of the hefty, 6.6-pound Sonos Move. It's pretty impressive for a high-end audio savant to pack the same quality of sound you'd expect from the company's stationary devices into this smart-assistant-enabled package.
Bose Portable Home Speaker audio: Loud with a catch
The Bose Portable Home Speaker's mono-signal technology tunes the speaker's sound for its surroundings, similar to what Auto Trueplay does for Sonos speakers. Three passive radiators, a high-excursion driver and a deflector distribute audio evenly for all-around balanced listening.
This concoction has its pros and cons. It delivers powerful volume levels, but at the expense of smooth sound. I left the Bose Portable Home Speaker on my deck while I took my dog for a walk down the block, and I could still hear remnants of Spotify's New Music Friday playlist 10 houses away. But within a few feet of the speaker, Travis Scott's latest single sounded unbalanced on full volume.
The speaker performs best at medium-to-low volume despite its capacity for massive noise. While the Sonos Move doesn't get as loud as the Bose Portable Home Speaker, the Move sounds excellent at its max volume level.
As a dance music fan, I use speaker testing as an opportunity to blast my favorite bass-heavy tracks. But the Bose Portable Home Speaker disappointed. "Runaway" by Galantis sounded mellow. I pivoted to the biggest bass-thumping bop of the 21st century thus far: Kanye West's "Love Lockdown." Only with West's 808 bass drops did the Bose Portable Home Speaker give me what I was looking for.
When I listened to Hozier's "Wasteland, Baby!," the speaker earned redemption. His infectious vocals and artful strums flowed from the Bose Portable Home Speaker to my welcoming ears.
But nothing sounded better than "Defying Gravity" from the Broadway musical "Wicked." I felt as though I were in the Gershwin Theater in Times Square watching Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel perform. Both musical powerhouses sounded clear and vibrant.
On Wi-Fi, you can use the Bose Music app, Airplay 2 or Spotify Connect to control your soundtrack. You can also ask Google Assistant or Alexa to fire up tunes with your voice.
None of those services are available on Bluetooth. You'll need to pair the Bose Portable Speaker to your smartphone and DJ with your third-party music library of choice.
Bose Portable Home Speaker smart features: Solid, but only on Wi-Fi
The Bose Portable Home Speaker pairs with either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control. I connected Alexa through the Bose Music app and was able to control my smart home gadgets, such as smart lights and smart plugs.
I used Alexa via the Bose Portable Home Speaker to get the week's weather report so I wouldn't be caught off guard by the change in season. I also asked fantasy football analyst Matthew Berry for help setting my lineup for the week. Later in the day, I had Alexa order me an Uber so I could arrive in time for a dinner reservation.
While I would usually make these commands with an Echo speaker, like my Echo Dot, I found myself using voice commands more frequently because I could bring the Bose Portable Home Speaker around the house with me. However, the Bose speaker does not support Drop In, calling or messaging like an Echo speaker does.
When I brought the Bose Portable Home Speaker outside the fringe of my Wi-Fi network's reach, Alexa faltered. Like the Sonos Move, this smart speaker isn't so smart on the go.
Bose Portable Home Speaker battery life and charging: Impressive
For portable speakers, smart or not, battery life will depend on the type of music you're playing and the volume level. Bose claims the Portable Home Speaker will last up to 12 hours while bumping at a "loud" volume.
In my testing, the speaker outlasted the 12 hour claim. I played a Dance Hits playlist on medium volume for 3 hours and found that the battery life dropped about 5% every hour. On a brand-new battery, I would expect close to 20 hours of nonstop tunes. That's twice the time you can get out of Sonos Move, which lasted 10 hours on battery power in our tests.
Bose also says the Portable Home Speaker lasts over 24 hours in standby mode, which is when the device is not playing music but the microphone is on and listening for voice commands. If you power the speaker off entirely, it should still turn on after a month unused.
When the speaker does die, you can power it back up with a USB-C cord and a wall charger. You can also purchase a matching Bose Portable Home Speaker charging cradle for $30 if you prefer the permanence of a physical base.
Bose Portable Home Speaker durability: Fabric concerns
The Bose Portable Home Speaker is rated IPX 4, meaning it can withstand a simple splash but not much else. I wouldn't want to leave it next to a pool's edge, and I'd hesitate to bring it to the beach. Something tells me small holes, chrome paint and sand aren't a good combination.
Another thing I noticed is that the cloth, though comfortable to hold, isn't the most resilient material for a device like this. Any condiments, drinks or dirty hands would easily stain the luxe silver model's white handle. If you're interested in using the Bose Portable Speaker for backyard barbecues, I'd recommend the triple-black variant.
And for either make, I would still be tempted to treat the handle with the water-repellent spray I use on shoes and coats. I watched this handle absorb water from my just-washed hands and couldn't help but wonder if it might mold after time.
Material woes aside, the handle is an excellent aide for transporting this thing short distances. But as with any kind of pricey tech device, I'd probably place it in some kind of bag or case for longer trips.
The Bose Portable Home Speaker confirms that first-gen wireless smart speakers from audio gurus check Alexa and Google Assistant at the door. Like the Sonos Move, the Bose Portable is a wireless smart speaker in the home and a portable Bluetooth speaker outdoors. You'll get loud sound in either locale, but the fancy features stay back with your Wi-Fi network.
The Bose Portable Home Speaker is backyard-party certified, but it won't bring its smarts wherever else you decide to take it. For what it's worth, the word Home is in the name of the speaker, so it seems Bose has positioned this as a device made to move around the house — not the great outdoors.
Although the Bose Portable Home Speaker is well packaged, the $349 price for a 2.3-pound speaker is hard to swallow. As much of a gripe as I have with the size of the $399 Sonos Move, at least it looks and sounds like a pricier piece of technology. But if you're a fan of the Bose brand and wish your voice assistant followed you around, this is a quality option.